It’s Safe to Ignore Stewart Mandel’s NFL Projections
Around the time of the draft, I got cranky when Stewart Mandel wrote his latest column declaring on the basis of college production that certain players were overrated and underrated by where the NFL had them. Because I remembered reading previous columns and had crankily dismissed his comments when I reviewed Bowls, Polls, and Tattered Souls, I thought I’d go and take a look at his prior projections to see just how badly he’d missed.
To that extent, I went through and pulled Mandel’s 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010 columns, plus the 2009 edition done by Andy Staples. I think Mandel began rating players in 2003, but didn’t find 2003, 2004, or 2011 ratings by Mandel or anybody else in the time I devoted to this project.
Because Mandel typically chose one underrated player and one overrated player from each position, I’m going to mimic his style and go through position by position. Note that for ease of writing, I’m simply going to pretend Mandel chose all of these players, even though the dataset is one-sixth’s Staples’.
Overrated: Jason Campbell, Jay Cutler, Brady Quinn, Matt Ryan, Matt Stafford, Josh Freeman
Underrated: Stefan LeFors, Brodie Croyle, Troy Smith, Chad Henne, Stephen McGee, Colt McCoy
Analysis: As a sort of preliminary note, there’s one problem with dealing with lists like these, namely that it’s easy to devolve into a sort of meta-exercise. Mandel, after all, is doing this before the NFL draft, which means he’s choosing players based on where he thinks they’ll go. Brady Quinn is a good example of this-Mandel decries Quinn’s prospects as a top five overall pick, where some discussion had him going, but indicated he’d be fine taking him in the late first round. Quinn was obviously overrated in both slots, but how much credit should Mandel get? I’m giving him half a point.
Beyond Quinn, Mandel’s record at projecting quarterbacks is simply abysmal. I don’t think there’s a single quarterback Mandel properly projected in the bunch. Given the record of third-round quarterbacks, Colt McCoy may have been properly rated, but he certainly doesn’t seem to have been underrated at all.
Total Points: 0.5/12 (Quinn 0.5)
Overrated: Frank Gore, Laurence Maroney, Kenny Irons, Jamaal Charles
Underrated: Darren Sproles, LenDale White, Michael Bush, Kevin Smith, Shonn Greene, Toby Gerhart
Analysis: A mix of dead-on hits and complete whiffs on the overrated list. The underrated list has a couple obvious answers, but Smith, Greene, and Gerhart are good example of why I like to wait six years before judging a draft.
Total Points: 5/10 (Gore, Charles, Sproles, White, Bush)
Overrated: Mark Clayton, Sinorice Moss, Dwayne Bowe, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin
Underrated: Chris Henry, Santonio Holmes, James Hardy, Hakeem Nicks, Dorin Dickerson (TE), Mardy Gilyard
Analysis: Once again, the underrated is a mix of dead-on hits and complete whiffs. The underrated list is a little more interesting, though the Hakeem Nicks writeup was really about how Darrius Heyward-Bey was being overrated. I’m declaring Holmes was properly rated.
Total Points: 4/11 (Clayon, Moss, Henry, Nicks)
Overrated: Khalif Barnes, Winston Justice, Levi Brown, Mike Pollak, Michael Oher
Underrated: Richie Incognito, Marcus McNeill, Dan Mozes, Sam Baker, Andre Smith
Analysis: Wow, I did not expect this one. There’s a good argument that Mandel perfectly called the overrated linemen. Underrated, well, that track record isn’t quite as good. Still, a datapoint clearly in his favor! Sam Baker and Andre Smith underrated, though? Uh, not really.
Total Points: 6/10 (Barnes, Justice, Brown, Pollak, Oher, McNeill)
Overrated: Erasmus James, Gabe Watson, Lamarr Woodley, Kentwan Balmer
Underrated: Mike Patterson, Jesse Mahelona, Charles Johnson, Quentin Groves, Sen’Derrick Marks, Brian Price
Analysis: Back to the normal pattern, with some dead-on hits and egregious misses. Brian Price I’m simply not going to include in the grading because of the way his career has progressed. Thus far, he’s an injury bust and would be overrated. Patterson was a player Mandel had as being drafted about where he was draft; as a mid-first-round pick, I’d say he was properly rated by the NFL.
Total Points: 4/9 (James, Watson, Balmer, Johnson)
Overrated: Channing Crowder, Ernie Sims, Stewart Bradley, Vernon Gholston
Underrated: Lofa Tatupu, Spencer Havner, Buster Davis, Philip Wheeler, Pat Angerer
Analysis: I hate rating some of these players. If a mid-round linebacker ends up being a nice player for a mid-round linebacker but isn’t anything special, how should he be deemed? I mostly gloss over these players in my NFL draft reviews, since there are more generally more interesting players to write about, but that’s not an option here. Angerer and Wheeler are the players who are giving me problems-Wheeler didn’t get a particularly lucrative deal, nor was he a great player for the Colts. I’m not sure Angerer was any good. They both still quickly became (or were inserted as) starting middle linebackers. I guess I should give Mandel a point for that.
Total Points: 5 (Crowder, Sims, Gholston, Tatupu, Wheeler/Angerer)
Overrated: Fabian Washington, Jimmy Williams, Chris Houston, Justin King, Malcolm Jenkins
Underrated: Ernest Shazor, Will Blackmon, Eric Weddle, Antoine Cason, Chad Jones
Analysis: A couple speed merchants who got overdrafted based on running fast in shorts help save this prediction. Weddle went early in the second round, which is about as high as most teams draft safeties. To me, that makes him properly drafted. Cason was another one of those players who went higher than Mandel anticipated, but who hasn’t outperformed his draft status. Jones was in a serious car accident before he played in an NFL game, so I’m not including him in my grading.
Total Points: 2 (Washington, Williams)
TOTAL: 25.5 / 71 (35.4%)
Just out of curiosity, I also went through and gave anti-grades, assuming that Mandel (and Staples) had instead said every player they declared to be underrated was actually overrated and vice versa. This gets a little tricky with players like Matt Stafford going first overall (how could Matt Stafford have been underrated?), but in any event, I came up with 18 points (25.4%). That seems to indicate if you have a choice between listening to Stewart Mandel and doing the exact opposite of what he says, you’re a better off listening to him. What the numbers really say, though, is the NFL does a lot better job than Stewart Mandel does of projecting which college players will be good NFL players. And cheer up, Dolphins fans, Ryan Tannehill got the always* (in the years I looked at) wrong Stew Mandel kiss of death.